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Are Windows 8 Tablets Racing to Enterprise Success?

By Paul Rubens, CIO
February 25, 2013 10:06 AM ET

CIO - At a race track somewhere in North America, a NASCAR driver finishes his practice session and pulls into the pit. He's immediately handed a tablet PC, and after taking off his gloves he starts tapping a map of the track on the screen to indicate areas where he's having problems.

NASCAR driver Alex Bowman inputs performance results on his Surface Pro.

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It's surprising because to date very few enterprises have implemented Windows 8--either on tablets, phones, or desktops and laptops, according to Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst.

And that means very few developers have written business-oriented apps for the platform. "Really only developers that are writing for consumers would be interested in Windows 8 at this time," Silversays. "Few organizations will have significant numbers of devices that could run Win8 apps for quite a while."

Windows 8 has been designed to be used with a touch interface, and there is certainly no shortage of tablets--such as Microsoft's own Surface -- that can take advantage of this fact. But Apple's iPad is the elephant in the room.

That's because millions of these devices are already in the hands of consumers, and many are in use in enterprises thanks to BYOD programs . That means it makes far more sense for most businesses to roll out touch-enabled mobile apps on iOS than it does on Windows 8.

"If we had a great application, what platform would we plan on writing it for first? Most likely we would answer iOS first, Android second," says Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

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One of the distinguishing features of Windows 8 is that it uses a consistent user interface across desktop and laptop, tablet and mobile phone operating systems.

It's still early days, but so far there are precious few signs that enterprises see widespread potential in exploiting this to produce applications that can be run on all three Windows platforms with the same look and feel.

"The problem is that if you try to force an app to be the same across all the platforms, it will likely be good on one platform, marginal on one and awful on the third. You can likely preserve business logic (algorithms) and data (structure and storage model), but the UI would have to be custom for each platform," Cherry says.

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Because Windows 8 is touch-enabled, it should well compete with the iOS and Android in the tablet market when it comes to enterprise apps. And in certain circumstances where there has already been a significant investment in creating business logic and data structures on other Windows platforms, it makes sense to create Windows 8 tablet applications rather than rewriting everything for a completely different operating system, according to David Johnson, an analyst at Forrester.

"We're seeing interest in enterprise Windows 8 app development from IT and their vendors mainly for line of business applications, like point of sale, or other applications characterized by a limited deployment of Windows 8 and new hardware to specific teams," Johnson says.

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